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Your Guide to Summer Stock

By On The Stage

Ah, sweet summertime. As the warm weather beckons, you may be interested in starting up some outdoor performances or having a go at producing summer stock theatre. If so, On The Stage can help prepare you for a beautiful few months full of creativity.

What Is Summer Stock?

Traditionally, summer stock theater is put on by companies that create productions only in – you guessed it – the summer months. Think Oklahoma! Or The Music Man in a sweeping outdoor amphitheater. The ‘stock’ portion of the name comes from the tradition of staging shows by a resident company and re-using stock scenery, props, costumes, and actors all summer long. Often, summer stock shows take advantage of the weather and perform outside or under tents. These theatres are also often situated near resorts and hotels to ensure out-of-town guests have easy access to their performances.

While it may seem like a leisurely summer of fun, it’s typically the opposite for the producers, actors and staff involved. 

“The speed with which shows must be assembled is the primary difficulty,” says Mark Dundas Wood of Backstage. “Some theaters still use the traditional summer-stock model, in which an ensemble performs one show by night while rehearsing an upcoming show by day. Some companies perform in true rotating-repertory format, with two or more shows alternating. But regardless of the model, time is of the essence.”

It’s also acknowledged that summer stock is the ideal place for young actors to get a ‘crash course’ in professional theatre before hitting the ‘big leagues.’ 

Where Did It Start?

It is generally accepted that Elitch Theatre in Denver, Colorado, began the tradition of summer stock in the late 1800s. In the 1930s, Time magazine reported that "Elitch's Gardens is the great-grandfather of all U.S. summer stock companies.” The tradition grew more popular in the 1900s, with many famous stage actors getting their start in summer stock as time went on.

What Is A Stock Set?

Just like you pull stock images for marketing, a stock set in the performing arts is essentially a variety of scenic units that a theatre has available in storage and can be used and reused for productions. From costume elements to tables, chairs and larger set pieces, the key is saving money, getting creative with your prop utilization and making what you have work for several shows over a set period of time. 

Your Summer Stock Checklist

So, we haven’t scared you off, then? Good! After securing your cast and production staff for your summer stock theatre showcase, here are a few things to keep in mind as you produce:

  1. Plan contingencies. If your summer stock is outside as tradition dictates, ensure you have a contingency plan in place for unsightly weather conditions. After all, you don’t want your hard work thrown out the window due to a rainy couple of weeks. 
  2. Ensure the wellbeing of your actors and crew throughout the summer. This means keeping an eye on both their mental health and physical well-being. It’s no secret that summer stock is exhilarating, but it’s also exhausting. Ensure your cast and crew stay hydrated if you’re working outside all day. Create a schedule that is reasonable for what will likely be a set of green actors and stage crew. Additionally, here are some ideas to keep your crew energized before big performances. 
  3. Invest in solid set and costume design. Your budget should be a top priority for summer stock performances. If you’re producing more than one show this summer, think long and hard before investing in a costume or building a set piece; make sure it can be utilized in more than one way for more than one show before taking the plunge. 
  4. Promote, promote, promote. If you’re producing a summer stock showcase, make sure you’re capturing and creating marketable content. Creating and sending out press releases, securing interviews with local new sources, amping up your social media presence, and engaging with your audience are all integral to getting excited patrons in seats this summer. 
  5. Fundraise. Any time’s a good time to raise capital for your theatre, but if you’re looking for summer-specific fundraising ideas, look no further. 

Ensure Summer Stock Success  

There are some surefire ways to make sure your summer stock goes off without a hitch. These include:  

Proper marketing for your show; creating solid merchandise and promotion materials to spread the word; deploying top-of-the-line fundraising efforts; and utilizing best practices for quick, easy and efficient ticket sales. 

Not sure where to start? On The Stage's comprehensive platform can help with just about everything as it pertains to your summer productions – from promotion to ticket sales, audience engagement and fundraising. Summer’s here, so book your demo today to get started. 

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Tags: production, resources, how-to, fundraising, marketing

On The Stage

On The Stage

By theatre makers, for theatre makers, On The Stage offers expert insights, best-in-class support, and an all-in-one platform for ticketing, promotion, audience engagement, and more...including a complete production and streaming platform for performing artists. Learn more today.